Financial Times: Igor Shuvalov urges EU not to be afraid of Eurasian Union

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On January 27 Igor Shuvalov, First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, published an article “Europe’s fear of Russia is a rerun of Soviet mistakes” in the British edition «The Financial Times». You can read the text below.

Europe’s fear of Russia is a rerun of Soviet mistakes by Igor Shuvalov

Many Europeans believe the nascent economic union between Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia is hostile to the EU’s objectives. It is time to set the record straight.

Critics of the Eurasian Economic Union argue that it attempts to restore the Soviet Union and establish regional hegemony. In fact, if there is a model that serves as inspiration for Eurasian economic integration, it is not the Soviet Union but the EU itself. The path towards integration that we have followed could have come straight out of a textbook: from customs union to common economic area to full-scale economic union. The process of building institutions is advancing rapidly – far faster than the European experience.

However, this is not a race. Our neighbours started much earlier. And they have gone further. They have reached the next stage, of monetary union, which we are not yet even discussing. They have taken steps towards deeper political union. For us, this is still not on the table.

At this stage, we are talking only of economic integration: free movement of goods, capital, services and a single labour market. Customs controls at internal borders have gone, trade is increasing, as is the number of cross-border business ventures. Harmonisation of technical regulations is well under way.

One of the most delicate issues is establishing the supranational institutions that are needed to make economic union work. The Eurasian Economic Commission is now highly effective at working with national authorities. True, member states increasingly grumble about the decisions it is taking. But this is testament to the fact that the commission, led by 3 ministers from each of its members, is guided by the interests of the union as a whole.

All countries are entitled to build such alliances – why not Russia and its partners? It would be reckless for Russia and others in the broader Eurasian region to neglect to pursue this end. Our countries are closely connected, culturally as well as economically. The union brings both stability and economic opportunity. Armenia and Kyrgyzstan are already in talks about joining the customs union.

It is for each sovereign state to decide its own course of action. Such choices are sometimes difficult. But the Eurasian Economic Union is rapidly becoming reality. A treaty will be drafted by May, for debate and ratification in the member states later this year.

Gainsaying each other’s efforts to build such trade blocs is not a way forwards for Brussels and Moscow. We should recall that 40 years ago the Soviet Union was deeply sceptical about western European integration, ignoring its institutions. Are certain people in Europe now repeating these Soviet mistakes?

What is important is that regional trade blocs do not become “economic fortresses” to protect their members. Interlinking them is essential to promoting global growth. Of course, this does not mean relations between trade blocs will be free from disputes – protecting its economic interests is as natural for Russia as it is for the EU.

Such disputes should be settled on the basis of economic analysis. Too often, as in the case of Ukraine, they are not. An economic rupture with Russia would not be beneficial to Ukraine’s economy. But in answer to our economic reasoning, we are forced to listen to clichés rooted in cold war traditions. Maybe it is time to call a spade a spade: the Ukrainian market simply has too much allure and promise for the EU not to try to change its orientation.

Three years ago in Berlin, President Vladimir Putin proposed building closer economic links between the EU and Russia that – over time – would lead to “a free-trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok”. Progress has been limited, but today this vision is even more relevant than it was then.

It is time to embrace pragmatism and leave the ideological baggage behind. Creating a common economic area must now be the priority for Moscow and Brussels. Agreeing to do so at the EU-Russia summit on Tuesday would be a good place to begin.

The writer is Russia’s first deputy prime minister